The first of a five-part series looking at the biggest questions facing the Red Sox leading into spring training:
1. How great will the 'Farrell Effect' be?
If you’ve seen the new Red Sox TV ad, you know how they’d answer this question on Yawkey Way. The ad features a voice-over narration by John Farrell, espousing Boston as an “incredible” city, an “incredible” environment and the “epicenter of the game.”
The team’s marketers, at least, have made Farrell the axis around which a hoped-for revival in 2013 will revolve. It goes beyond the image-makers. Across the board, player reaction to Farrell's hiring has been enthusiastic, and there is an obvious comfort level between Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington that never existed with Farrell’s predecessor, Bobby Valentine.
Media reviews of the hiring generally have been glowing, with the nagging exception of Toronto, Farrell’s previous place of employment, where critics have noted that the Blue Jays under Farrell last season lost just four fewer games (89) than the Sox did under Valentine (93), and that Farrell’s grip on the clubhouse hardly seemed any stronger than Valentine’s in Boston. The Jays were slammed for sloppy play and an indifference to fundamentals, not exactly the type of testimonials a manager lists on his résumé when applying for a new job.
Near the end of last season, Valentine complained to reporters that he inherited “a perfect storm. I kind of flew into the middle of it." That he helped to create some, or much, of that storm, he did not acknowledge, but it did not take long for him to fulfill predictions that he would be a polarizing figure.
In spring training he clashed with members of his coaching staff, setting a tone that persisted throughout the season, and it was in spring training that he alienated some of the team’s veterans by the way he berated Mike Aviles during an infield drill. The image Valentine projected on the first day of workouts, a whirling dervish of energy and motion, faded quickly into a portrait of dysfunction.
There may be an element of truth in what Valentine said, that any manager replacing the popular Terry Francona would have encountered resistance from a team still reeling from its collapse the previous September and bombarded by stories questioning its character and commitment, leaving it wary and defensive. But if Valentine had to deal with a perfect storm of dissolution, the circumstances awaiting Farrell may be ideal for a team united in a desire to erase bitter memories.
Farrell won’t have the trust issues that plagued Valentine, not with his coaches, players or front office. He understands the territory, having been a pitching coach here for four seasons, so he knows how to navigate the minefields into which Valentine often willingly lurched. The fan base appears supportive, although there may be a wait-and-see aspect to how quickly the fans embrace Farrell as a curative.
How much of a difference can a manager make? The Sox are approaching 2013 with a roster far different than the one that played for Valentine last season, so any renaissance will depend on more than one factor, of course.
But the Sox are featuring another ad this winter, one showing a photo of a reflective Dustin Pedroia, with the caption “What’s Broken Can Be Fixed." The Sox are betting that Farrell is the man who can fix it.
NEXT UP: How strong will the starting rotation be?